Reflecting on the life and writing of Rachel Held Evans, the Rev. John Boley urges individuals to study the Bible with a deeper sense of spiritual intimacy.
Clergy Assistant, Michigan Area
I recently read an article about Rachel Held Evans in The Christian Century. Evans was a millennial theologian who has been very influential without following the traditional theologian career path of doctor’s degrees and seminary professorships. Rather, she was more attuned to the digital world and published from the vantage point of a young person trying to make church and scripture relevant and empowering – “taking theology off the high shelf and making it accessible.”
Evans grew up in Dayton, Tennessee, famous for the Scopes “monkey” trial of 1925 in which evolution was pitted against fundamentalism. Evans grew up a fundamentalist in a household filled with grace, and gradually migrated away from fundamentalism to become a “progressive evangelical.” Her first book was entitled “Evolving in Monkey Town.” Another work of hers is “A Year of Biblical Womanhood.” Another work is “Searching for Sunday.” These titles are indicative of the power of her thought and writing. Unfortunately, Evans died a few months ago tragically at the age of 37.
Evans believed that Americans continuously attempt to find a “theology of rightness in a world where rich white men are in charge and everybody else is exploited and quiet about it.” The antidote to this poison, she proclaimed, is not distance from scripture, but greater proximity to it – even intimacy with it. Particularly with the role of women in scripture, Evans believed in looking into the Bible’s dark corners so as to light a candle there.
About the gospel, Evans states:
The gospel doesn’t need a coalition devoted to keeping the wrong people out. It needs a family of sinners, saved by grace, committed to tearing down walls, throwing open the doors, and shouting, ‘Welcome! There are bread and wine. Come eat with us and talk.’ This isn’t a kingdom for the worthy; it’s a kingdom for the hungry.
I would wholeheartedly agree with Evans. I am deeply saddened by the way the Bible is used as a weapon, from all sides, when the wielders of the weapon seemingly don’t know much about it.
I’m recalling the many times I was part of a Disciple Bible Study class over the years, both as participant and facilitator. They don’t seem to be happening as much now, probably because of the busy demands of people, and because the materials are now a bit dated.
However, the need for Biblical intimacy is more important now than ever before, both within the United Methodist Church and in the Christian world as a whole. All of us can continue to learn and grow through this intimacy. I will pray that it be so and work toward that goal.